Monday, March 31, 2014

Science Facts: World's Largest Balloon

The world's largest balloon ever clocked in at a volume of 30 million cubic feet. The balloon was, of course, sponsored by Red Bull. It's definitely an impressive size, but consider this: isn't the world's largest balloon actually everything in the universe that's not inside the world's smallest balloon? To put that in other words, imagine that the universe consisted of a Klein bottle made of latex. What's the inside of the balloon and what's the outside?

The world's smallest balloon was made with a special carbon membrane one atom thick, containing a volume of 300 cubic micrometers (approximately 1*10^-14 cubic feet of air). That means that the volume of the world's largest balloon is actually, to estimate very roughly with NASA's numbers, about ten trillion cubic light-years. Eat that, Red Bull.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Screenshot of the Day: Deux Ex: Human Revolution


A trench coat is mandatory in this line of work.
In the process of filling in my gaps in gaming knowledge, I had to come to Deus Ex eventually. I chose to play the remake, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, lauded by some as better than the original game. What Deus Ex offers is freedom-- not just dialog decisions, but choices made in every level and every fight. The player controls Adam Jensen, the cyborg-man so awesome he literally has mirrored sunglasses built into his face.

In Deus Ex, you can be the guy who kicks in the door and mows everyone down, but that's the experience almost every action game offers. Complex hacking and stealth systems ensure that you can also be the guy who slips past enemies like a ghost, wreaking havoc but never seen. I went on my first mission equipped with a sniper rifle that shoots tranquilizer darts, leaving a trail of sleeping enemies in my wake.

This stuff is all well and good, but I was completely sold when Adam Jensen's sunglasses flicked into place.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Installing the Great .NET Framework

Chris's next game up for review is Dungeons and Dragons Online. Everything was going fine until two-thirds of the way through installation, when ".NET framework" said it was installing but never did-- the installer just quit.

I googled high and low to find a solution, browsing through Steam forums, DDO forums, and Microsoft support pages. I tried a few things with no success and passed over other fixes, hesitant to mess around with the deepest workings of my computer. As I went, I uncovered the mystery part by part. Dungeons and Dragons Online uses .NET framework 1.1, a version released in 2003, incompatible with Windows 8 machines.

For a moment, I despaired, but I continued a little further. There, I found the fix of all fixes-- the virtual equivalent of giving my program files a stern talking to. Nervously checking the guide to make sure I wasn't breaking my computer, I opened the Dungeons and Dragons Online folder and opened some of the 'config' files in notepad. I found all the spots where the program required .NET 1.1, and told it that it didn't need 1.1 after all.

Everything worked fine after changing the notepad files. Isn't that something?

Friday, March 28, 2014

Writing News

As I've been tunneling upwards into land of peanuts that is beginning freelance journalism, I'm having to cut back on the opinion pieces and write some actual news. It's not quite as interesting to write as reviews or top ten lists, but without news, a 'gaming website' is just a blog.

On the positive side, writing news is much quicker-- just find something interesting that happened and summarize or explain it, doing just enough research to know more about the topic than the average internet peruser. With the right screenshot or logo, you're good to go.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Science Facts: Producing a Precipitate

We were posed an interesting question in Chemistry class today-- if you were stuck on a desert island with a solution of calcium carbonate, and your life depended on producing solid calcium carbonate (maybe you have an ulcer or something), how would you cause the solution to precipitate?

Some of these are still unconfirmed, but here are the answers my group came up with:
1. Breathe heavily on the solution. With luck, the carbon dioxide in your breath will produce carbonic acid in the solution, which will dissociate into carbonate and hydronium. The extra carbonate will drive the calcium carbonate reaction to the reactant side, eventually producing a precipitate. Alternatively, wait for acid rain, which also contains carbonic acid.
2. Grind up eggshells and mix them in the solution. Any calcium that dissolves will have essentially the same effect on the reaction as the extra carbonate would.
3. Wait for the liquid to evaporate. This is the by far the most straightforward answer, and the simple explanation is that decreasing the volume of the solution will drive the reaction to produce a solid, as solubility is measured by concentration, not amount.

Collect any solid you produce, and with luck, it will serve as a good antacid.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Tales of the Urban Dead Part 8

Catastrophe struck with the dawn. Albert Newman was sorting through spare parts scavenged from a nearby junkyard when Jerry Mothra burst into the hospital, panting. "The Boardsies... they're gone."

Albert stood up as Mayer Hawthorne came down from the second floor, looking worried. "Gone?" said Albert.

"As if they'd never been there. No note or anything."

Mayer looked nervous as Albert began pacing. "Why, though?"

All three men turned as gunfire echoed outside. "The zombies are coming," breathed Mayer. Albert looked around for his axe and realized he had left it upstairs. Taking the steps two at a time, he stopped as the hospital door crashed open behind him.

"Stop right there!" yelled a voice, and Albert turned to see not a zombie, but a man standing in the doorway, gun pointed straight at Albert's chest. The man's clothes were soaked in blood, and what must have once been a formal white shirt was frayed up to the elbows.

"What do you want?" asked Albert carefully. "The zombies are heading this way, you know."

The stranger cocked his head to the side, turning to look at Mayer and Jerry, then back at Albert. "I'm not worried about the zed, fellas. It's you guys that have me in a knot." He laughed and pointed his gun at his own head.

It was with a sinking feeling that Albert noticed only Jerry was carrying a weapon-- the baseball bat he took whenever he went on scouting trips. The stranger seemed to have noticed it too, and grinned at Jerry. "Don't hurt me, kind sir."

"Let's just talk through this, nice and slow," said Mayer, holding up his hands.

"Maybe quick?" said the stranger, still pointing the gun at himself. "I've come on a mission, you see. Malton has too many survivors, fella. Like you." He pointed the gun at Mayer. "Are you a psycho-logist?"

"Now, then-" Mayer was cut short as the stranger turned his gun on Jerry and fired, catching him full in the chest. Both Albert and Mayer yelled, rushing forward, but hesitating as the stranger raised his gun again.

"He didn't deserve to live, fellas," grinned the stranger as he turned the gun back at his own head. "It was self-defense, see?" With that, the stranger spun around and sprinted out the door and into a street that was filling up with zombies.

Mayer made to give chase, but Albert dragged him back, kicking out at a zombie that was nearing the hospital's doors. The stranger was already lost from sight. Mayer cursed as the two men retreated, depositing Jerry's body outside, then barring the doors. Kempsterbank fell in a single day.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Infinite Money

Do you have a lot of US pennies produced before 1982? Don't use them in a store-- the copper in one penny is worth almost two cents, and in a system where money is no longer backed by gold, it's a bastion of value in a sea of theoretical worth.

At the moment, about 15-20% of pennies in circulation are good pre-1982 copper, so for infinite money, buy lots of pennies from a bank, keep the copper ones, and exchange the rest for bills. Repeat until you have all copper, then sell it for scrap. Keep doing this and you'll make a mint.

Monday, March 24, 2014

An Ode to Edward Lear

There once was a limerick-rhyme
That used the same word for each rhyme
The first line said "rhyme"
The last line said "rhyme"
That rhyme-ending limerick-rhyme

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Fun Times With ALEKS

Below is a relatively calm and uninteresting rant about ALEKS. To all those poor, huddled, masses who are, with me, subjected to ALEKS' frustrating but probably beneficial system of education, welcome to the bonfire, and may all your answers have the correct number of significant figures.

ALEKS is an online program that helps students improve their math and science skills through the 'practice makes better' method. I have ALEKS work assigned every week or so for Chemistry 142, and while I do think that ALEKS helps me remember and solidify various Chemistry contents, the past three hours I spent ALEKS have been very frustrating, and here's why:

First of all, I'm going about the work the wrong way. My Chem professor and ALEKS evangelist says that ALEKS is meant to be done a little bit every day, rather than *ahem* just the weekend before it's due. I've adopted the at-times-daunting policy that if a piece of homework is worth doing, it's worth doing all at once. This means that I have to juggernaut through all the little annoyances ALEKS puts in place to punish procrastinators. Here are two of the more irritating time-wasters:
Even this far into Chemistry, many problems give data in units that have to be converted before being plugged into whatever equation is being used. I had hoped that, once my basic algebra skills were established, I wouldn't have to go through the same process every time.
In questions that involve molecular interactions, all relevant molar masses are given except the one vital one. Almost without fail, the most difficult-to-calculate molar mass isn't given.

Secondly, it's very time-consuming to enter answers. This isn't really ALEKS' fault, but there's really no quick way to enter information like chemical formulas and equations into a computer. What ALEKS does do is provide large empty charts to be filled out with basic information. While these charts usually aren't difficult at all, getting bored while filling them out can result in slight oversights, and one wrong answer means the entire question is marked wrong and the chart must be re-filled from scratch.

Lastly, ALEKS seems to work on the premise that getting a question wrong means you don't know the science behind it. I believe in the power of practice just as much as the next person, but what I find happening with ALEKS is not a learning process, but me trying to prove to ALEKS that I know what I'm talking about. I do learn some things - today I re-learned the principles of basic equilibrium reactions - but the bulk of my time is spent reading questions, trying to figure out what ALEKS wants me to say, and saying it. Getting a question wrong means you have to complete two more questions to advance, and, most irritating of all, after two consecutive wrong answers (for example, when I learned the hard way that ALEKS treated ICE tables differently from our textbook), ALEKS begins to subtly suggest that you might not have the mental capacity to complete the question and might want to go and play with building blocks or something.

Maybe I just get annoyed when a machine tells me I'm wrong. Or it could be that I dislike the way ALEKS seems to pretend to be a person when it has very little skill with nuances such as rounding. Whatever the case, I have to say it does make me feel better to pinpoint the things I dislike about the program. ALEKS is a workbook that tries to be a teacher as well.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Next Rung on the Ladder

For the first time, one of the writing jobs I've wrangled through foraging around the internet has resulted in money in my bank account. It's been just a bit over five months since the idea of video game journalism occurred to me as something to do with my free time. The journey has been enjoyable, but, until now, an amateur venture.

Most of my writing is opinion pieces about how games do work and how they should work. Around December, I started to bill myself as a specialist in role-playing games, 'cause I had just finished Dragon Age 2 and thought it was pretty nifty. Let me share some figures. Since the time I started, I've written for eight websites: five news pieces, seven reviews, nine miscellaneous articles, and fifteen installations of a column about RPGs. There have definitely been rough patches, including the day I played a game I didn't much like for eight consecutive hours because the review was due the next day. On the most part, though, I've enjoyed approaching video games in this new way.

My most recent piece is a review of The Lord of the Rings Online that's netted me $5.00, or $4.50 once PayPal has taken its share. It's not much, but it means that, by some definitions of the word, I'm a professional games journalist. The breakthrough review can be found here.

The question of the moment is what happens from here. I suppose the next logical step is freelancing for a more prominent website or attending an industry event. For now, I'm content to call up a certain person and tell him that, in my professional opinion, Fez really doesn't look that interesting. Five months of work? Totally worth it.

The Power of Compound Interest

It has been said that the most powerful force in the universe is compound interest, and that idea, in large part, is what originally drove me to start up a savings account. I decided to try calculating, at the astonishing annual percentage yield of 0.01%, how much green my $500 will generate over time.

Assuming that my bank stays open for the next million years, my wealth will indeed reach a mind-boggling size: if the all the dough my account accumulated was represented by the oceans of the earth, Bill Gates would have to be a billion times richer than he currently is for his net worth to represent a single drop of water. Compound interest, eh?

On the other hand, it might be preferable to tap into these savings sometime within this millennium, or, dare I dream, within my lifetime. If I leave my mazuma to multiply for fifty years, I might not top Bill Gates, but could I at least have a decent retirement fund?

It turns out that $500 at 0.01% interest would, after fifty years, yield a profit of two greenbacks and fifty-one pennies. Not enough dinero for a dinner, but that's the way of things. As powerful as compound interest is, I'd have to invest twenty million greenbacks in my current account if I wanted to generate enough wampum to live off of. When it comes down to it, time is much more powerful than Benjamins when it comes to making pelf with compound interest.

If you want your descendants to live like kings, consider depositing some big ones in an extraordinarily long-term savings account. Future generations will thank you for the lettuce, but consider that the oldest bank still in operation has only been around for five and a half centuries. In the end, it seems that compound interest is a lot like astronomy-- pretty cool if you have several billion years to watch things unfold, but not really important if you just want to pay the rent.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Tales of the Urban Dead Part 7

Albert had been living alongside the Boardsies for a few weeks when Mayer Hawthorne and Jerry Mothra took up residence in St. Matheos'. The two had wandered into Kempsterbank fleeing from the zombies just as Albert had. Mayer was a former doctor and, with Albert's help, began to reclaim some of the hospital's ruined medical equipment.

Jerry Mothra had been a sales clerk at an electronics store, and it was glee he returned from a scouting mission one day carrying a transistor radio. "We should be able to charge it from the generator no problem," he said, rubbing the dirt from his new treasure.

"Will there be anything to listen to, though?" asked Mayer, putting down the roll of bandages he had been wrapping.

Albert took the radio from Jerry and turned it over in his hands. "The Boardsies say there's people down at the Whitenoll HQ broadcasting from time to time. Twenty-seven point five five megahertz, if I remember correctly."

"Let's get this going, then," said Jerry.The sun was setting by the time the radio was ready. Jerry grinned as he fiddled with the knobs as static began to crackle. "I got the frequency," reported Jerry. White noise issued from the radio.

"We'll keep checking," said Albert.

Mayer sighed and took off his glasses, rubbing his eyes. "It's all we can do, I suppose." Even the Boardsies were quiet that night. Around two in the morning, a piercing cry echoed from the south. Albert slept on.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Even More Niche Jokes With Benjamin

How are Wolverine and a CX4 odr-7 C. elegans worm alike?
They're both influenced by a mutant Jean.

Why didn't the kid in elementary school ever use the pluperfect tense of the subjunctive?
He was in the primary sequence.

Why did the indicator solution change color when the cafeteria closed during spring break?
It was undergoing tight rations.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Tales of the Urban Dead Part 6

It was the evening of the second day Albert had spent at St. Matheos' and the streets were still quiet. Albert was settling down to read a book on diagnosis methods he had found in one of the wards when the sound of shattering glass echoed through the night air. Albert rolled out of his chair and crouched, keeping low as he crept over to the nearest window, gun in hand.

There was another crash and a muffled yell as Albert peered out into the Kempsterbank night. The lights were on in a building across the street, and the ruckus seemed to be coming from inside. Someone needed help. Albert seized his axe and leapt down the hospital stairs two at a time.

A brief silence had fallen as Albert emerged into the cold night, glancing around as he stole across the street. Another shout came from the lit-up building, and a loud scraping like furniture being dragged across a wooden floor.

Albert steeled himself and kicked the door in, raising one hand against the brightness. Several voices cried out, and Albert stared around at the group of people dispersed around what looked like a hotel restaurant. Tables and chairs were stacked against one wall and several young men and women were grouped in couples in the middle of the floor, ogling Albert. A grizzled old man leaning against the bar broke the silence. "Well, you've come just in time for the dancin'."

A younger man with a sparse blond beard grinned as he lifted his shotgun to point at Albert's chest. "Friendly?"

Albert quickly lowered his axe. "Yes, friendly. What are you doing here?"

The man at the bar had taken a simple wooden flute from his jacket and was polishing it on his sleeve. "The zed have really won if they can keep us from our Saint Paddy's Day celebrations. Pull up a chair."

Albert nodded as he leaned his axe against a wall. The old man started up a merry tune on his flute, and the couples on the floor began a simple dance. Albert turned to the man with the shotgun. "Aren't you worried people will hear?"

"Let them hear, then. We're the Boardsies, and we can take whatever comes."

Monday, March 17, 2014

Taking Fibonacci Back to Italy

The Fibonacci sequence has a huge number of instances in the natural world, from pineapples to pinecones. There is, however, a deeper pattern that may have foregone notice until now. Let's take a look at the first dozen numbers in the sequence:
0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89

Here's the real question: what is the second number to be equal to its place in the sequence minus one? The answer,  of course, is five, being sixth in the sequence. Now take this number of numbers starting with the number five, subtracting one from each number and putting them, in order, into one number. The resulting figure is:
47122033

Now some background. The website www.openstreetmap.org hosts a detailed map of the world's streets, labeling intersections, or nodes, with multi-digit ID numbers. Is it any coincidence that node #47122033 refers to an intersection in a small Italian town halfway between Florence and Ravenna?

Exactly.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Screenshot of the Day: Mass Effect 3


This is happening on top of a speeding hovercar, too.
Mass Effect 3-- a sci-fi RPG, and, surprisingly enough, sequel to Mass Effect 2. As of 12 hours in, I'm enjoying myself just as much as in the previous game. I won't repeat all the nice things I said about the series, but Mass Effect 3 has added a few new things.

With the trilogy's plot coming to a climax, the stakes are higher, and there are many more moments of emotion and loss as the galaxy descends into total war. Also, the best parts of Mass Effect 1's weapon modification are back, leaving behind the tedious inventory management. Long story short, I was able to attach a large serrated blade to the muzzle of my shotgun.

People say that the ending of Mass Effect 3 is terrible, but I've managed to avoid spoilers so far and still have no idea where this space train ride is going. What I can tell is it's going to be an exciting trip.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Idea Generator

Here's a question for the day-- what's faster: a shark, a waterfall, or a motorcycle? Let's deal with maximums. Sharks come in third place, with the shortfin mako shark having recorded speeds of up to 74 km/h. The top speed of water in a waterfall would depend on height-- the world's tallest waterfall is Angel Falls, at 979 meters. Theoretically, water would be falling at almost 500 km/h by the time it reached the bottom. Motorcycles ultimately take the speed prize, with a world record of 605 km/h.

It's unfortunate that things have come to this, but there's a certain time when ideas are just hard to come by. If that's the case for you, try this site for as many random words or pictures as you could care for. I got shark, balcony, waterfall, and a picture of a guy on a motorcycle. I would hope that the average balcony has a speed of 0 km/h.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Why Are Games Cheaper Than Food?

Often, when I'm considering whether or not to buy a video game, I compare its price to the cost of some common object, usually food related. For example, a game on sale for $5 cost roughly the same as two boxes of pop-tarts. It's true that newly released triple-A games are usually priced at $60, but with Steam sales and other such deals, it's been a long time since I've payed full price for a game.

Because of this, I've come to the conclusion that either games are really cheap or food is very expensive. Things really clicked today. Last year, I bought the game Dragon Age: Origins for $7.49 and spent approximately 140 hours entertaining myself with that particular set of 1s and 0s. Today, I spent $8.51 on a wonderful birthday dinner with little to no hesitation.

I suppose it's a good point that food is necessary for life and games aren't, but if necessity is the only argument, I could have simply eaten the bread and spam I had stored in my dorm room. I think it's the fact that games are digital that makes them so cheap. Games are released at full price, and people eager to play will pay $60 to get access on the first day. As the months go by, there may be a 33% off sale, then a 50% off sale. Years go by and a 'Gold Edition' or 'Director's Cut' is released for $20. The Gold Edition goes on sale, and that's when you see Rome: Total War available for $1. The boiled-down idea is that once a game has been produced, any gross profit from sales is essentially net profit. As opposed to food, the developers of a game don't have to make a new copy when someone buys a digital download. It's almost like an infinite resource.

With that in mind, I'll go ahead and assume that food, going through the normal process of being grown and processed and prepared and served, is the normal-priced category. Gaming can be a big drain on the wallet, and for that I suggest the bag-of-chips recommendation plan: for every recommendation by someone you know, be willing to pay the price of one bag of chips. Or just plug the metacritic rating into this formula, where x = money to pay and m = rating:  x = (m^1.19 - 2m)/2.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Science Facts: World's Heaviest Lemon

The world's heaviest recorded lemon was grown in Israel and clocked in at 5.265 kg, or around 11 pounds. Such a prodigious lemon could supply the juice for approximately 5.5 liters of lemonade (1.5 gallons).

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Tales of the Urban Dead Part 5

The rain was just letting up as Albert Newman crossed into Kempsterbank. The streets were quiet, and a light breeze began blowing as Albert turned a corner to see a tall white building ahead. Over its entrance was a fading sign: 'St. Matheos' Hospital'. Albert smiled to himself. "One saint after another." He strode towards the hospital's double doors with a spring in his step.

Albert was hoping to find medical supplies inside, but even more, a place where he could help people and make Malton a better place. He didn't want to have to lose another survivor. Albert stepped through the hospital's broken doors and rubbed his eyes as he stared around the reception area. All the walls were shades of yellow and sky blue, some decorated with cartoon murals of animals and sunshine. A children's hospital.

Readying his handgun, Albert advanced through the colors, watching for any movements or sounds from the shadows. All was silent, but a trail of blood ran up one of the nearest staircases. Steeling himself, Albert proceeded onwards and upwards.

It was evening by the time Albert had checked both floors and was content that the hospital was secure. He had even found a generator on the second floor, and was able to get the lights on. Albert was ready to make a home for himself.

Monday, March 10, 2014

The World's Top 10 Crops

By mass produced per year, the world's ten most grown crops are:
1. Corn
2. Wheat
3. Rice
The big three-- corn is used for a lot of non-food purposes, so wheat and rice are probably eaten more.
4. Potatoes
5. Cassava
Thanks again, Columbian exchange.
6. Soybeans
7. Sweet potatoes
8. Sorghum
9. Yams
Nigeria is the world's top producer of yams.
10. Plantain

Just as a test of how this list applies to the US, I've examined the labels of any food products within reach of my swivel chair. I have corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, corn starch, yellow corn meal, corn oil, enriched wheat flour, whole wheat flour, wheat gluten, wheat bran, potatoes, soybean oil, soy flour, soy lecithin, and modified soy protein.

I'm guessing that in the US, the big three are corn, wheat, and soybeans. My list might have looked a bit more healthy, but the box of Raisin Bran was out of reach.

Source: http://www.businessinsider.com/10-crops-that-feed-the-world-2011-9?op=1

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Thoughts on Groceries

What happens when a student, after a week of hard work and thinking, starts Spring Break and then tries to write a blog post? With that in mind, let's scrape the bottom of the idea barrel and talk about the groceries I bought today.

Bread is a good start-- filling, but not too expensive. The next logical step is finding something to put on it. Here in the dorm, there's a good chance that anything stored in the fridge is likely to never be seen again, so keeping things cold is out of the question. I got a jar peanut butter because I like peanut butter, some spreadable meat because I know someone who doesn't like spreadable meat, and a can of spam because it makes me think of the time I was in a romantic relationship.

I'm beginning to realize that writing in this condition might not be a good idea, but I might as well go on with the grocery list. I got two boxes of pop-tarts, which are great snacks in my opinion. They don't remind me of anything besides eating pop-tarts. My friends and I were about to leave the grocery store when we walked past the two-liter bottles of soda that were selling for 99 cents each. I was surprised enough to buy a bottle of cream soda. It might be enough to make me pause the next time someone tries to sell me 50 cl of soda for a dollar.

And that's the station where my train of thought stops for today. I just need one more sentence to round out my conclusion.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Screenshot of the Day: The Lord of the Rings Online

I dyed that cape myself.
A few days ago, I realized that I was running out of space on my hard drive. On my computer, games take up most of the space, and I needed to choose a few games to uninstall. I went through my Steam list and removed Civilization IV and some Half-Life 2 expansions, but I still needed to free up more space. I searched through the list for a game I would never, ever play, and finally settled on Lord of the Rings Online. I figured that if I wanted to play an MMORPG with an immersive, lore-driven world, I could just load up Neverwinter.

The very next day, I got an email about a review job I had applied for a little while ago. I could almost feel the wheels of fate rolling as I was given the assignment of reviewing Lord of the Rings Online. Also known as Lotro, Lord of the Rings Online is an MMORPG set in Middle Earth during the War of the Ring. Players choose a race (human, elf, dwarf, or hobbit) and a class, and follow series of quests as they level up and work together with or against other players.

I'm enjoying myself a lot more than when I first played Lotro several months ago, which is good considering I need to get to a pretty respectable level in order to review the player-vs-player and other high-tier mechanics. I'll hopefully have the full review online somewhere in a few weeks time, but right now I'm thinking I might want to go play some Civilization IV.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Contrasting Labs

My two science classes this semester are Biology and Chemistry, and while they're both lecture-based classes, there's a three-hour lab once a week for each class. Over the past few weeks, I've noticed a few differences between Bio lab and Chem lab, and am just figuring out the reasons now.

There are chairs in the Bio lab, but not in the Chem lab-- my guess is that Chemistry experiments involve more splashes and spills that might require suddenly leaping away from the work table.

We wear gloves but no goggles in Bio lab, and goggles but no gloves in Chem lab-- again, splashes are more of a danger with Chemistry; in Biology experiments, it's more important to not to get contaminated by or contaminate any bacteria or other organisms being handled.

We use micropipettes in Bio lab and pipettes in Chem lab-- when your environment is an agar plate, even a tiny amount of bacteria or chemical is enough to see results. Chemistry labs, based on calculations more than observations, require larger amounts of chemicals to get accurate numbers with the equipment available. On the other hand, it could just be more fun to watch reactions on a large scale.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Tales of the Urban Dead Part 4

Albert Newman paced up and down the dusty sanctuary. Glancing to the shattered rose window and back to the church's main doors, he made up his mind. He had to get out of Shackleville. More zombies had been moving in from the north and west, and the streets were no longer safe, even in the full light of day.

Thunder boomed outside and a light drizzle began to fall. Albert gathered his meager belongings-- the rain would help him slip out of Shackleville unseen, and more importantly, unheard and unsmelled. Securing his handgun in a makeshift holster on his right hip, Albert buckled on the flak jacket he had found near the abandoned police station. His backpack was full of the rations and the makeshift medical supplies that could mean the difference between life and death in Malton.

Striding to the door, Albert picked up the other difference between life and death-- his heavy fire axe. It had been a cold day when Albert spotted the axe in the rubble of the local fire station. Almost four feet of wooden haft and a blunted red blade, it felt like an old friend as Albert hefted it on his shoulder. With one last look around the sanctuary, Albert stepped out into the rain.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

A Hundred Down, A Few More To Go

This is my 100th post on Variant Minds, and I thought it would be nice to take a look at what this blog is built on. When I arrived at college last semester, I didn't sign up for any writing-intensive classes-- I had taken AP English in high school, but never considered myself to be an 'English' person, overshadowed as I was by the writings of my brother Joel and friend Luke.

In the middle of October, I was tasked to write a paragraph for a group project in Health class, and I had more fun with that homework than I had had in a while. I began to realize that I'd begun to miss the writing I had been required to do from time to time in high school. I decided it was time to pick up a new hobby, so I started from a topic I knew a lot about - video games - and began working towards being a video game journalist. My first article was posted on the Internet on October 28.

Over the next month, I wrote a lot of words about video games, slowly climbing to bigger websites and getting my first free game. There were two major reasons that I decided to start a blog: there were things I wanted to write about that weren't related to gaming, and games journalists are apparently expected to all have personal blogs.

On November 20, I started the process of creating a blog, but couldn't think of what to call it. I went to get supper as I thought about what my blog would be. I was worried that even if I wrote about things I thought were relevant and interesting now, my future self would look back with embarrassment on the writings of my past self. I was also wondering how to explain why I keep switching from writing about video games to writing about Chemistry or Latin. It was then that I came up with the idea of Variant Minds, speaking from the viewpoints of different elements of my self. I posted my first post.

It took me a few months to work out where I was going with Variant Minds, but I've gotten into a pattern. I try to make a blog post every day just before I go to sleep, alternating between the gamer Chris and the intellectual Benjamin. If I have a lot of free time, I write something related to my experiences during the day, or add to the 'Exit' or 'Tales of the Urban Dead' series. When I'm in a hurry, I can do a 'Screenshot of Day' post if it's Chris's day, or 'Science Facts' if it's Benjamin's turn.

I enjoy writing now more than I think I ever have, and hope to continue blogging for quite a while. I'm grateful to all the people who have inspired me, and to the God who gives me thoughts and ideas and the ability to write lots of words about them. The past hundred posts have been a fun ride, and they might be just the beginning.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Science Facts: Cockroach Race

Cockroaches are among the fastest insects on land, and while they can be very unnerving, the top speed recorded for a cockroach is 3.4 miles per hour. When confronted with a cockroach situation, it's nice to know that you can outpace a cockroach by walking briskly.